Rocking and Rolling Along

How rock and roll music gave a vintage caravan a new lease of life

When we spotted this retro rig at a vintage caravan get-together in Victoria, it immediately appealed to us for several reasons. Firstly, the vintage caravan is a Phoenix, which is a fairly rare brand. We come across plenty of vintage Viscount, Sunliner, Globetrotter and Don caravans in our travels, but as far as we could recall, this was the first time that we had ever seen a vintage Phoenix. In addition, there is always something very satisfying about a rig where the tow car and the caravan have been painted to match each other.

So we had to stop and have a chat with the owners, Dennis and Sandra Virgona, who live near Geelong. Sandra explained that they are very keen on rock and roll, and the retro caravan is an extension of their 1950s memorabilia collecting hobby. At home they have a 1950s Pye television set, some old radiograms and three other vintage vans. In keeping with the retro rock and roll theme, they named their Phoenix caravan Spunky, after Fonzie’s dog in the Happy Days television programs.

Dennis showed us around their retro rig, explaining that the caravan was built in 1957. It still has its original build plate, showing that the Phoenix caravan company was located in Grange Road, Fairfield, Victoria. They have met Jeff Chrisfield, who was the owner of the Phoenix business at the time their caravan was built.

Advertisements from the 1950s show that Phoenix produced two, three and four berth caravans, as well as empty shells and prefabricated kits. Those were the days when home handymen assembled their own caravans! But of course, many vintage van enthusiasts still maintain that tradition when they carry out a major renovation on a badly deteriorated caravan.

Dennis and Sandra’s caravan was a shed find, or to be more accurate, a field find. Their daughter spotted the Phoenix in a paddock in Werribee, near Melbourne. They left a note in the van; the owner phoned them about it, and they bought it. The exterior needed some restoration, but surprisingly the interior was in almost new condition. So everything in the interior is original except for the floor tiles, which had to be replaced, and the curtains.

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